One of the creativity challenges we like to use at Center for 21st Century Skills is called the 30 Circles Test, developed by Bob McKim and more recently popularized in Tim Brown’s 2008 TEDTalk: Tales of creativity and play. This is a great challenge that can be adapted to suit people of any age in any setting. It’s quick way to get creative juices flowing, break the ice, or team build, and all you need is a sheet of paper with 30 circles, a pencil, and 3 minutes.
- Writing implement
- 30 circles template
- 3 minutes of free time
So how do you play?
Each participant grabs a pencil, pen, crayon, marker, etc., and the 30 circles template. When the timer starts, each artist has 3 minutes to “fill” as many of the 30 circles as they can. The goal is quantity, not quality. Patterns, doodles, shapes, animals, plants, words, and objects are all fair game, as are drawings that incorporate more than one circle.
Administering the challenge is fun, especially once you’ve done it with a few different groups, but it’s really important not to give your participants hints and suggestions as to what to draw. The key to the challenge is to encourage users to draw anything and everything they can conceive in the 3 minute period.
We’ve developed a few variations of the 30 Circles Challenge. Many of these variations were developed based on circumstance—maybe we had a particularly quiet group, maybe we were short on pencils. Adding and changing the rules makes for some interesting results, and it’s a great way to shake up the challenge for participants who have done it before.
Theme:The facilitator of the challenge identifies a theme at the start of the 3 minutes. The theme could be anything—a color, a certain ecosystem, a book title, a food group, etc. Each artist should try to incorporate that theme into their 30 circles.
Partners (with a twist!): Each set of 2-3 participants receives one sheet of paper and one writing implement. They still have 3 minutes to fill in as many circles as possible, but with one additional rule: The person with the pencil can’t draw their own idea. Instead, those in the group without the pencil must dictate what the artist should draw. If the person with the pencil comes up with an idea, they must pass off the pencil to someone else and instruct them as to what to draw.
Score keeping: Whoever manages to fill all 30 circles wins.
Reflection and debrief
Debriefing the 30 Circles Challenge is another great opportunity for facilitators to engage participants. For example, if one artist has a page covered in snowmen (a common theme in winter), ask if anyone else drew snow people. Try to discover commonalities. Participants can also work together to discuss who came up with the most unique design. Reflecting on the challenge as a group can yield some interesting results and realizations.
After facilitating a number of 30 Circles Challenges, you will probably get used to seeing lots of suns, flowers, eyeballs, and stereotypically round things. It’s not a bad thing! But you’ll never fail to be amazed at some of the unique ideas that seemingly come out of nowhere.
Have you done the 30 Circles Challenge with your group? Have you developed your own twist? Post your 30 Circles submissions to our Facebook page. We’d love to see your results!